PSYCHOLOGY OF BAGELLING

You may think, the title is a bit exaggerated. Yes, it is. But I could not find a better wording for the subject of this post.

The fresh material for this “analyze” was of course USO QF between Thiem and Nadal.

I have some observation about that in mind, but I don’t recall other similar in such detailed way.

I think, it was just this set, when Thiem lost the match.

Generally the impact of a bagel, especially ion first set, depends on who you are any how it happened. Was this the real measure of the game levels in this match, on this day, between these opponents? Should it have been, next set would end with another bagel or breadstick.

Now imagine, you are Thiem and you bagel your opponent in a QF of a slam, where you are rather a novice at this stage and your opponent is one of the greatest of the sport and there is no reason to think, he has an off day or is hurt or the like.

If you are Thiem, there is another important aspect – your big respect for the opponent. So you feel maybe not so good after having bagelled him. Even if you feel, you game was outstanding, you still cannot understand, why your great opponent could not even win a single game. Maybe he is hurt? How to play against the opponent, you respect so much and you bagel him in a slam, where he is assumed to reach the final and maybe win the title and you are happy to have reached QF for the first time on this surface?

It’s a mix of consciousness and subconsciousness. You cannot control your reactions 100%.

Maybe you think, this was an accident at work and now the opponent starts to play his usual top level. So you are a kind of scared of your starting success. But at the same time, you must think, you are maybe playing that big, that the opponent cannot find the answer, so next 2 sets can look like the first and you are close to some gigantic win.

But you like and respect the opponent, so maybe you think – it would not be nice, to produce triple bagel just against this opponent.

How it works, if this is not Thiem and opponent is not Nadal. The routine is different, but the result similar. After bagelling the opponent in first set you don’t know, what really happens, because this is rare for men (not so rare for women) and if the opponent is not hurt, he can still “regroup” and win next set. The third is then the first “normal” set in the match, very often going into tie-breaker.

CONCLUSION: if it’s not because the opponent is hurt/injured/ill, it’s better not to bagel the opponent in first set. Which does not mean, you should give deliberately one game away. If you do, it can end with giving away more games or even lose the set and waste the advantage of leading by 1:0.

The psychology is similar to the case of high lead in tiebreaker. The leading player can lose focus because of not feeling under pressure anymore. But the pressure is necessary to stay focused and play usual game until the end.

ANOTHER CONCLUSION: if both opponents are comparable in tennis skills, it’s very probable, the winner is the one, who can deal better with such situation. Kind of BEING UNDER PRESSURE BECAUSE OF NOT BEING UNDER PRESSURE 😉

Updated 2.10.2018, 15:31

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12 Replies to “PSYCHOLOGY OF BAGELLING”

  1. I think during the first set against Nadal, Dominic played very well, but Nadal was not playing at his usual 100% level. Nadal is known to be a slow starter. This was their very first meeting outside of clay and neither really knows exactly what each other’s weaknesses and strength are on hard courts. So I think Nadal allowed Dominic to take control of the first set to force him to “show his cards” so to speak. Nadal is excellent at adjusting his game and after he got a glimpse of Dominic’s game plan in the first set, he adjusted accordingly and the rest as we all know became a long, beautiful, brutal battle between two amazing tennis players, athletes, and people.

  2. Agree in most of your points. But – Nadal is slow starter in the meaning of first 2-3 games, not to lose first set because of starting slow. I think, this time it was a big surprise for both and Dominic played something, Nadal could not find answer for for a long time. Should Dominic have played the same in the second and third, of course there would be more of a battle every minute. Nadal would find answers. As he told in an interview, he simply “kept going”. Nadal was required to give everything he had and we know, how much he has and still he won only by a bit of luck, being then only half happy, because it ended with a “simple” error of Dominic. Somehow physically Dominic defeated Nadal, who was then not able to play Delpo and is now healing his knees, skipping totally the Asian swing.
    IMO this bagel in first set could have similar impact on Dominic as in the Delpo match year before. Too much of respect for big opponents, especially for Rafa. I have never seen such statistics, but would be interesting to see, what happens as a rule (if there is one) after a bagel in first set, assuming it’s not because of injury or similar thing.

    1. Maybe 2-3 games into the first set, Nadal saw what he needed to do better against Dominic, but chose not to waste energy to come back in the set because he was already double break down. So he just cut his losses to start the second set afresh. The psychology of bageling is intriguing. It is not unique to tennis. It is so common to see in basketball and many other sports. Ex. a weaker basketball team takes a massive lead over a stronger team, then get a ‘false sense of security’, starts to play with worse and then the stronger team makes a comeback. The Delpo match had a lot of unusual circumstances that didn’t exist in the Nadal match – the partisan crowd against Dominic, ill opponent closed to retiring from match, in addition to inconsistent form from Dominic leading up to the US Open… In the Nadal match, Dominic was very focused and stuck with his game plan from the first point to the last. He fought for every point and that’s all you can ask for!

      1. I think, there was also some Thiem-Nadal specifics on the line. Thiem was of course going for the win. But bagelling someone you respect so much must have a negative effect like “Oh my God, what have I done! I cannot defeat him like this. Is he ill?” not like others would quit with heavy fist pumping. After the first set Dominic was sorry for Rafa, just like Rafa was sorry for Dominic after his unfortunate last point’s smash. After it showed in next 2 sets, Rafa is OK, the real battle started and Dominic found himself in a “normal” position of having to fight for every point. No more “guilty” conscience.

  3. 2 baggels (sets) in a row in one match is exceptional.
    In fact it must be terrible for a top player to be baggeled twice in a row by a player who’s not yet as good and complete as himself.
    In fact, it happened not so long ago to Thomas Berdych at the Rome Master (2016 if I recall correctly), where Thomas lost unexpectedly from David Goffin to whom he never lost before at that particular moment of his career. Though he never won a slam title, Berdych may be considered to have been a top player, as he is the only one, besides the big 4, who managed to end the season 7 times in a row (2010-2016) in the year-end ATP top 10. The loss to Goffin was so devastating for Thomas that he fired his coach in the immediate aftermath of that match.
    I think it is more normal that the victim of a baggel starts gradually playing better in the next set, and like it is with communicating vessels, the other player’s level has to drop because of the increasing pressure of his opponent, which – I assume – often results for him in losing the next one.

  4. @Wilfried
    I was not aware of this double-baggel from David. Well to fire the coach is like smashing the racket. You will need next day another one 😉 Maybe Tomas had just an off day and David was on a big run.
    Last time (but not in men’s tennis) I have seen double baggel it was in one of this year’s Asian Tour matches and who lost was Jelena Ostapenko (Roland Garros winner from 2017).
    Yes, it’s rather the rule in men’s tennis, after winning high (bagel or breadstick) first set you must expect a desperate attack from the opponent and you are just a bit distracted. So it’s all “psychology”, not skills. Nobody loses or gains skills all of a sudden during the match 😉
    Not sure (missing stats), but from what I can draw from my general memory, what’s called “momentum” (psychology again) likes to shift alternatively. You win first set high, you lose then the second also high and starting into decider (if it’s Bo3) the winner of the second set has momentum on his side. What can work the opposite way is, the player who needed to work hard to come back from set down, may be exhausted both mentally and physically. Interesting, if there is some rule.
    BTW – what’s wrong with David? Not a perfect form last time and almost no chances for London. Now not playing and losing points in Asia. Some injury or illness? Or too much of hype at LaverCup?

  5. David suffers from ‘bone oedema’ at the right elbow.
    He’ gotta rest the right elbow during one month at least, whilst he has to defend many points which he can’t now because of the injury. As a consequence he’ ll most likely will fall out of the top 20 towards the end of the season.

    1. Sad 🙁 Not the beast season for David. What’s the reason on the injury? One-time overstress or long-time overload because of his game style?

      1. Ossal Oedema often occurs after impact (stroke, fall, blow, bump, etc.). Often moisture remains behind after a fracture or contusion…. It can also be caused by irritations or infections. For example, in the back near the vertebral bodies.
        I don’t know what the exact cause is in David’s case.

      2. David is done for the season due to an elbow injury. In his most recent instagram post, he identifies the injury as a bone edema. https://www.instagram.com/p/BodzXgKA5X8/?hl=en&taken-by=david__goffin. Sounds like the same injury Dominic got this year? I am a little baffled by David’s decision to play in the Laver Cup. I actually was there in person for his match vs. Schwartzman. 🙂 It was a great match by the way. I am afraid he might not have been fit to play in Laver Cup, but did it anyways because he was not sure if he will ever get another chance to play for the Laver Cup and he didn’t want to miss such a unique experience. It seems like everyone wants to get invited to the Laver Cup party (except Delpo LOL).

        1. David Goffin was indeed not fit and has been critisized strongly for it by some of his fans in Belgium, calling it a unwise decsion from him of his coach (or both).
          I think you’re right in writing that he was not sure if he will ever get another chance to play for the Laver Cup.

  6. Nadal was handed a bagel during the US Open with Dominic Thiem achieving the rare feat, but can you perhaps name the other players who have bagelled the Spaniard?
    Here is an overview for Nadal’s career (from season becoming 19 years old onward…) :
    ( 2018 Rol. Garros QF – Nadal def. D. Thiem 0-6 6-4 7-5 6-7(4) 7-6(5) )
    2017 Miami Masters R32 Nadal def. P. Kohlschreiber 0-6 6-2 6-3
    2015 Australian Open QF T. Berdych def. Nadal 6-2 6-0 7-6(5)
    2011 Tour Finals RR Roger Federer def. Nadal 6-3 6-0
    2011 Tokyo F Andy Murray def. Nadal 3-6 6-2 6-0
    2011 Doha R16 Nadal def. Lukas Lacko 7-6(3) 0-6 6-3
    2009 Rotterdam F A. Murray def. Nadal 6-3 4-6 6-0
    2008 Chennai F M. Youzhny def. Nadal 6-0 6-1
    2007 Paris Masters F D. Nalbandian def. Nadal 6-4 6-0
    2007 Hamburg Masters F R. Federer def. Nadal 2-6 6-2 6-0
    2006 Wimbledon F R. Federer def. Nadal 6-0 7-6(5) 6-7(2) 6-3
    2005 M. Carlo Masters F Nadal def. Guill. Coria 6-3 6-1 0-6 7-5
    2005 Buenos Aires QF Gaston Gaudio def. Nadal 0-6 6-0 6-1

    Thus D. Thiem is the 4th player who manages to hand Nadal a bagel in a match played on a clay courth, and the 10th player to do it on all surfaces.
    To put Nadal’s record a bit in perspective, Djokovic was bageled 7 times in the same career span (season becoming 19 years old onward), as you can derive from the overview below:
    2017 Roland Garros – QF – D. Thiem def. Djokovic 7-6(5) 6-3 6-0
    2016 Rome Masters – R16 – Djokovic def. Th. Bellucci 0-6 6-3 6-2
    2012 Cincinnati Masters – F – R. Federer def. Djokovic 6-0 7-6(7)
    2011 Basel – SF – K. Nishikori def. Djokovic 2-6 7-6(4) 6-0
    2010 Indian Wells Masters – R64 – Djokovic def. M. Fish 6-1 0-6 6-2
    2008 Masters Cup RR Djokovic def. Nik. Davydenko 7-6(3) 0-6 7-5
    2007 Estoril – F – Djokovic def. R. Gasquet 7-6(7) 0-6 6-1

    As for Federer, he was handed a bagel only once in his entire career (from 19 years old onward), namely by R. Nadal in the notorious 2008 Roland Garros final ( 6-3 6-1 6-0). Roger is obviously the hardest one to do it against.

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